- Matty Layne Glasgow
or opuntia macrocentra kush
& bake these west
texas cheeks, these
garden city gums
they’re so thirsty
until I bear
take you in
these lamesa lips
where you bury
in my sand-fleshed
prickly pear kush
you wet succulent
you thorny yellow
mouthful didn’t come
from some small pot
on a windowsill
it’s a wild one
just off an anxious
gravel road where
I’m on my knees
looking as far
as my glazed eyes
can see into
a fearless flatline
joyous kind of desert
My Body Lies,
or boundary // fluidity
Along the shore of the Rio Bravo, we watch
the silty current sunder your home from mine—
a slow flow of brown water that cuts through
Santa Elena’s Canyon. On the opposite bank,
a girl stands in faded grey jeans, her arms drown
in a bulky poncho, her body breathless beneath
quilted green & red. She sinks into the muddy
shoreline like a dream, eyes tracing the patchwork
of our entwined fingers as we follow the river’s edge.
Some things are made to be crossed, some flesh
is meant to tangle. You are a man & I am a man
& we are contained by no boundary on this day.
For 1,254 miles, the Rio Bravo serves as the natural
border between the U.S. state of Texas and Mexico.
My body lies. I want to love a man, a woman.
I am the girl. I want to be in the arms of another,
taste her, & yearn for some soft-petaled flavor
of truth. I part my lips, but everything going in
& coming out deceives me. My words are muddy,
too soft to rise toward the unforgiving sun like
a canyon wall. Too cold & wet in the shadows of
red rock to be a flame, but all of me needs to flicker.
What is the natural boundary between us? I want
to wade in that water, to feel the current that keeps
me on the southern bank & you on the other side.
I want to drown with all the others who want more.
The vilest carcasses are the floaters. They turn green,
swell up like a balloon, & stink to high heaven.
The girl is a ghost. She is every woman & every man
who ever wanted. Her poncho bleeds until she wears
the grey of her jeans on her flesh, drapes her loss over
her empty chest, sinks & slips away into any soft, cold
earth that will take her. The girl is a ghost. He needs
to be the girl, before she drowned in her own body,
before she understood she was not a girl, but a boy.
This is what it feels like to be trapped. A ghost has no
body, only regret. The girl is a woman, a man. The girl
is a dream. The girl is my dead mother. The girl is.
Since 1998, more than 6,000 migrants have died trying
to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.
What happens the day we can no longer take refuge
in our own hearts? Remember, the will to cross anything
is to wade in one’s courage, to trust our flesh-wrapped
bones to cut through the current. Tell me, who guards
the borders of my body? You are the girl on the southern
bank. I am standing alone, toes sinking into the mud
because I want you beside me before the currents quicken
& rise, like those years we can never return to. I want
to trace your frailty with my fingertips, your slender arms
swimming in quilted fabric, to look you in your emerald
eyes, to lay my head upon your hollow chest & squeeze
the life back into you. The girl on the southern bank
is always sinking, always watching the silty current
until it runs dry & we meet once more in the riverbed.
Note: “boundary // fluidity” incorporates quotes & information from Brendan Borrel’s article “Ghosts of the Rio Grande” & Collin Schultz’s article “Nearly 6,000 Migrants Have Died Along the Mexican-U.S. Border Since 2000” as interludes between each section of the poem.
after Gwendolyn Brooks
I. Urban Dictionary says
it’s slang for doing the nasty,
like a sweet saxophone moan:
summertime & the brass is easy
& I feel good & I just want to be
easy with you. Well, I want to be
something nasty too, so give me
the name. Call me Jazz June,
& I’ll be a queen as long as life
is this song—my heart a sprig
of clover. Listen to its petaled beat
as it sprouts from my shaved chest
draped in Ella’s sequined shimmer.
Blossoms in my wig like Billie, so this
body feels close to a woman, again.
No blackface; this isn’t that kind
of show. Drag is about the look
& the song, so put some Nina on.
Play me Etta & Sarah Vaughan
’cause this boy likes to sway low.
I’ll read Gwendolyn real cool, real
slow; this is that kind of show.
Some nights we just need a poem
or a song, especially in Texas
& Mississippi. Goddam.
II. sweet, soft things
I’m lying on the shag carpet in my grandparents’ living room,
threads fraying in all the shades from brown to green, yellowed
& golden & in between, like Texas sod in late June—parched
& dying. I’m thirsty too, for a dream to speak to, to call my own.
This is that dream. From the dream’s kitchen, apples simmer in
cinnamon, the sour flesh of Granny Smiths bubble in a sweet
earthen spice. Soon the apples will soften, like the woman over
the stove, her red curls thinner than in those photos on the wall.
Same color though, fiercely bright & aflame. Nanny stirs with
some fire too, dips her shoulders to that Boogie Woogie Bugle
Boy. I’m eight, so I still think the Andrews sisters can sing. True
they’ve got some brass, but no slow moan. Goddam, it’s been such
a jazzless June. Until she comes for me with that earthen tune on
the radio, at last. Etta’s voice croons on, so I know Nanny’s still
groovin’, with a deeper lean now ’cause she sure ain’t turning that
dial. I spread my fingers wide, bury them in the carpet. They are
flames from the friction, dying to press their heat to something
smooth & sweet, to fill the empty spaces of my body with summer
& this slow song, to press upon my cheek the thrill of a soft thing
burned. I don’t know if Nanny’s really moving along to that slow
simmer of percussion, to that stovetop beat, but those apples sure do
smell sweet. Someday, I’ll be a sweet, soft thing too—a tender fruit
that tastes like home. But this is just a dream where I press my palms
into the carpet like a bone-dry lawn, where I reach for a woman’s
brawny voice & let my hips sing along, where all my flames can touch
are those dead or dying things that make a boy’s little body move.
III. Jazz June used to thin gin
before I changed my name & took
to the stage, back when I was just a boy
thirsty for something to change my state
of mind. I would go over to your house
when your parents were overseas, palms
sweaty & heart pulsing like a trombone’s
heavy breath before Etta’s voice comes in,
& she just wanna, & I just wanna be easy
with you. I remember how you’d empty
enough from each bottle—like Hendrick’s
or Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire—so we
could forget what we both really wanted,
or maybe we’d remember. You joked about
putting your lips around me. I just laughed
& watched the way your body filled those
jerseys & shorts to the brim with something
worth wanting. I just wanna, I just wanna,
but we’d just fill the bottles back up with
water, ’cause some poisons are too strong,
too dangerous. I learned to dilute those urges,
the ones from the empty spaces of my body.
I just drank until I could forget, until I could
listen to how she didn’t want me sad & blue,
she just wanna, she just wanna. Me, too.
IV. My daddy had a trumpet
I never heard him play.
Found it in a velvet case—
rusty brass bent & buoyed
into some pitchless thing.
He let me wrap my mouth
around that instrument,
blow all kinds of ungodly
moans out its bell. From
my bedroom, from out back,
I’d raise all kinds of brassy
hell. He showed me how to
empty a full water key too,
how to press my finger to a
curved clip & watch the spit
drain from the valve. Yes,
my daddy wanted me to be
a sweet & tidy little thing;
he told me never to swallow
the fruits of my labor. Daddy,
I tried, but I just love to play
& play, & when I’ve got my
mind on that slow moan, those
notes, they sweat in the thick
bayou air, they taste like the
sweet sucrose of any fruit.
V. The first time I jazzed june
was in the front seat of a 1986 Ford pick-up.
He parked between some baseball fields
just off the shore in La Porte. That summer
night was dark & silent & awful. All I could hear
was our breath, faint & light as trumpet gasps,
but no crescendo moan, only the sticky, humid
mess of our sweat & Texas heat. Before I left,
he told me it might have been better if I’d used
lube. Even spit would work, he said. I just thought
of that water key draining. The fruit of that
trumpet’s labor, how my child lips made
a broken horn let go of a rusty song. All we
heard in the cab of that old truck was the soft,
quiet hum of waves on the shore. When I came
back from school the next summer, we met
again. Different truck. Same boy. This time
he reminded me to bring all we’d need to make
things go smoothly. That June heat made our
flesh so limber, & we both made something like
music that afternoon—a reprise of a softer tune,
first so slow & low, then faster with more moan.
I still don’t remember his name. Let me call him
Jazz ’cause it was June, & our breath was hot-
mouthed, just wanting to be nasty on a smooth
neck, an open ear. He laid there & asked, Do you
think you can go again? I just sang, Again, again.
VI. Urban Dictionary says
it’s something we do after we
thin gin & before we die soon,
like a swan song, or Billie’s last
recording—the ones that left her lips
too soon. Where does our last breath
blow? I’m still here, a flicker of silver
heels on stage, but I’ve seen thinner days.
You can feel them in the fraying threads
of this corset, in my love handles’ soft
flesh uncinched after the show. But while
I’m up there, running my palms down
my shaved thighs with the friction
of a child’s fingers through shag carpet,
I still hear an earthen tone,
a deep dirge moan from the grave.
I know that’s where I’m heading too,
but I wanna stay & shake the thick
bayou air, smell the bay through
a cracked window. I wanna fuck
a time, until we fill those days with
song. I just wanna, I just wanna
move & groove with you.
Note: “Jazz June” is inspired by language from Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool” & lyrics from Ella Fitzgerald’s “Summertime,” Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” & “Mississippi Goddam,” Etta James’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You” & “At Last,” Billie Holliday’s “All of Me,” & the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Matty Layne Glasgow is the author of deciduous qween, selected by Richard Blanco as the winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2019. His poems appear in BOAAT, Crazyhorse, The Missouri Review, Muzzle Magazine, Nimrod, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. He lives in Houston, Texas where he teaches with Writers in the Schools and adjuncts his life away.